NORMAN PARK, Ga. — The historic Norman Park Conference Center was split between three buyers at an auction 11 months ago. Now the highest bidder is working to establish a private Christian college on the site.
The Moultrie Seventh-day Adventist Church Reform Movement purchased lot 2A, the highest-bidding plot, for $825,000 cash on June 30, 2021, according to Dr. Idel Suárez Jr., president and chairman of the Movement of reform of the Moultrie Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“Our goal is to open a private Christian college that is open to anyone who wishes to attend, regardless of belief,” Suárez said. “We want to bring the Bears back to life.”
The bears were the mascots of Norman College, one of many educational institutions that have called Norman Park property their home since its founding in 1901 as a school for students in grades 1 through 12.
Most recently, the property housed the Georgia Baptist Conference Center. In March 2016, the Georgia Baptist Mission Board donated the property to Shorter College, but the college found no use for it and put it up for auction last year.
The proposed college is a 501c3 nonprofit organization, Suárez told The Observer.
The lot contains 10.9 acres of land comprising the Conference Building, Brand Hall, Dining Hall, Baker Auditorium, Baker Chapel, BSU Building, Hope Chapel, Graham Gymnasium and Clark Hall.
When church officials arrived in Norman Park, they met Mayor Bruce Norton and City Clerk Hope Amador and asked how they could benefit the community.
Suárez said they told him they needed a college.
The school will be called Norman Park Academy and will serve students in grades six through eight. The principal will be Richard Eaton.
The school will have a competitive curriculum with STEM classes and small class sizes, Suárez said. Students will have to learn a foreign language.
Parents interested in enrolling their child in school will need to complete an application and provide transcripts of the child’s having completed at least fifth grade.
Students will have a small devotional time at the start of the school day where they will pray, sing and read a Bible verse, Suárez said. Students will be required to wear uniforms, but standards are being worked on.
The school will serve lunch on campus and follow vegetarian cuisine.
Students will have the opportunity to participate in intramural sports including volleyball, basketball, and softball.
Suárez said the school will have a dry campus, which means staff don’t drink or smoke and everyone undergoes background checks.
“We want to keep all of our students safe, especially with a Christian upbringing,” Suárez said.
He said they met with Norman Park Police Chief Chuck Snyder and Fire Chief Jeremy Henry to develop protocols to keep all students safe.
At the moment, they are finishing the escape routes from the buildings.
Current students of the church’s online school, Orion Christian Academy, are already on campus. The academy has 60 students and the director is Margie Seely.
Suárez said the school aims to open by Labor Day, Sept. 5, and will conduct a full school year. They hope to enroll up to 100 students.
The school will offer virtual classes. It has a fully equipped recording studio where students can learn video production and use technology.
Hall Roofing, a division of Hall Contractors, remodeled the facilities.
“Mr. Hall has given much of his time and materials to upgrade our roofs,” Suárez said.
They are currently working on air conditioning units to meet the needs.
“We will be accredited by the Georgian Accreditation Commission as soon as we get the change of use of our administrative building,” Suárez said.
There are no plans to change the names of the buildings or the historic architecture.
“Ultimately, our long-term goal is to open a two-year college or facility that offers nursing, education, and a chaplaincy program, like an LPN program,” Suárez said.
Suárez said that next month a group of Norman Park College alumni will visit the school. They’re coordinating the meeting with Norton.
The school is also coordinating with Rich Gallagher, the general manager of the Moultrie YMCA, to potentially provide services to the Norman Park community, according to Suárez.
They are currently hosting family conferences for interested parents and students.